By Alan Baldwin
MONZA, Italy (Reuters) – Lewis Hamilton has hailed Max Verstappen’s stunning success in Formula One and called on those criticizing the Dutch teenager’s driving to keep a sense of perspective.
“He has grabbed the opportunity with both hands… Firstly, give the guy a break, he is 18 years old. What the heck were any of us doing at 18?” the triple world champion told British reporters at the Italian Grand Prix on Friday.
“He has won a grand prix. The pressure on his young shoulders is something most people will not be able to comprehend.”
Hamilton, who had a stunning Formula One debut of his own with McLaren in 2007 and on Sunday could become only the third driver to win 50 grands prix, said Verstappen had plenty to learn like any youngster.
But he said the man who became the youngest ever race winner in Spain this year on his Red Bull debut, and started on the front row in Belgium last weekend, was clearly an exceptional talent.
“I don’t know what I would have been like at 18 on track, but I would have made lots of mistakes,” said Hamilton. “I just see a young, talented kid who just seems to have an enormous amount of raw talent.
“At 18, the maturity hasn’t caught up with your ability and that might go faster with some people or slower. Only time will tell.”
Verstappen has been a breath of fresh air for the sport since he arrived as a 17-year-old with Toro Rosso last season but his uncompromising attitude and aggressive tactics have caused controversy.
He arrived in Monza after tangling with both Ferrari drivers and drawing the ire of Kimi Raikkonen after the Finn was forced to brake on the straight at Spa.
Hamilton said he had no personal issues with the Dutchman, whose father Jos was also a fierce competitor in Formula One, but had seen some videos of Spa.
“The one where he ran Kimi off, that was an interesting one, but that’s just him learning. He is a young aggressive driver,” he said, adding that he had witnessed far worse behavior.
“We could all go out there and be reckless. You have to find a balance,” said Hamilton.
“I have driven with people in the past where there was a guy in front who was a complete psycho. It was, like ‘What the hell is this guy thinking?’”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Rex Gowar)